1. The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is an Executive
Agency of Defra, providing a range of services including the making
of rural payments, carrying out rural inspections, and livestock
tracing. One of its most important functions is to make payments
to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European
Union, principally the Single Farm Payment (SFP). The SFP is a
new payment introduced following the reform of the CAP agreed
in 2003, which replaced several existing CAP subsidy payments.
It was announced in January 2005 that the RPA would start making
the new payments to farmers in February 2006; it was subsequently
confirmed that it was the RPA's aim to pay 96 per cent of eligible
claimants by the end of March 2006.
2. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
launched an inquiry into the RPA in October 2005, in the light
of significant concerns about the RPA's ability to meet the deadline
for making the new Single Farm Payment (SFP) to farmers in England.
The Committee appointed two rapporteurs, David Taylor MP and Roger
Williams MP, to carry out initial investigations; they invited
written submissions from a range of interested parties and conducted
an informal visit to the RPA's Headquarters in December 2005.
On 11 January 2006 the full Committee took evidence from Lord
Bach, the responsible Defra Minister, Mr Johnston McNeill, the
Chief Executive of the RPA, and their officials.
3. At that evidence session, the Minister was unable
to tell us definitively whether the payments would be made on
time, or whether instead it would be necessary to make interim
payments to farmers. In the light of this unsatisfactory response,
and other replies from the Minister and Mr McNeill, we have decided
to issue this brief interim report, setting out our immediate
concerns about the performance of the RPA and Defra in preparing
for the implementation of the new SFP. This will ensure that our
views - which we believe reflect those of many interested parties
- will be known to Government before it makes its announcement
on the timing of payments, due at the end of January.
4. The Committee has asked Defra and the RPA for
additional written information, following the oral evidence session.
In particular, we have asked the Minister for information about
the updates and assessments provided by the RPA to Ministers on
progress towards meeting the payment target. Once we have considered
this further information, we will make a fuller report to the
House. That report will address all the issues set out below in
greater detail, together with other points which it has not been
possible to include in this report. The written evidence received
during this inquiry, and any further information submitted by
Defra and the RPA following on from the evidence session, will
be published with that report, together with the transcript of
the oral evidence. References in the footnotes to the oral evidence
relate to the transcript as published on the Committee's website.
1 See: "Single Payment Scheme in England - Further
Information on Payment Date", Rural Payments Agency news
release, Ref 03/05, 19 January 2005 and HC Deb, 18 May 2005, col
Q 152 Back
The Committee's website is at: www.parliament.uk/efracom; the
transcript is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmenvfru/uc812-i/uc81202.htm Back